Subsidized farmers for more hunger
A rightwing think tank helped the Grassley family take the lead in cutting the food stamp program
The end of the COVID emergency cut food stamp benefits for millions of Americans last month, even as the inflation rate for groceries remained well above the national average. So, why is Iowa – the state whose farmers reap the reward when people can afford to buy more food – about to cut food stamps even more?
As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, the Iowa legislature, where Republicans have a super majority, last week passed a law imposing an asset test on families using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The legislation, which Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign, will also establish onerous paperwork requirements for anyone who wants to stay enrolled in the program.
The law further prohibits beneficiaries from using food stamps to buy meat (mostly corn fed), baked beans, and American cheese. Lest the public think Hawkeye solons care nothing for public health, they also prohibited the purchase of candy and soda.
What’s happening in Iowa mirrors a push by rightwing Republicans in Congress to use this year’s debt ceiling negotiations to push for major cuts in food assistance. As Politico reported over the weekend, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will demand including an expanded work requirement in the food stamp program.
As the Politico reporter noted, it will be tough to get that through the House since even some GOP members are balking at tying food stamp cuts to the debt ceiling legislation.
Meanwhile, the nation’s food banks are reporting a surge in demand due to what advocates are calling the hunger cliff. The COVID emergency expanded eligibility for food stamps. Plus, it raised the amount each family received, which proved crucial for avoiding widespread food insecurity during the sudden and sharp economic slowdown.
But now those benefits are moving in the opposite direction. Besides millions of families losing eligibility last month, the average benefit per individual dropped by $82 a month, a sharp drop from an average monthly benefit that ranges from $195 for individuals to $684 for a family of four. Hence, the rise in demand at food banks, which supply only a tenth the aid of the government program and have no capacity to make up for the post-emergency cuts.
Here’s an example of how the end of the emergency affected 59-year-old Tim Wennenberg, whose story appeared on the website of the Greater Chicago Food Depository a week ago:
Wennerberg has survived a lot, including a car accident and a heart attack. What he doesn’t know is how to survive on the $60 in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits he now receives each month, down from $260 before the end of the emergency.
“Who can live on that?” he asked, standing at the food pantry at First Presbyterian Kimbark in the Woodlawn neighborhood. “That’s cutting it close.”
Or take the example of Laura Linton, a single mother of two. She also must use a food pantry supported by the GCFD. She works sporadically because her 16-year-old son has autism and she must run to the school two or three times a week whenever he has an aggressive episode. “They’re cutting emergency aid while eggs are still five dollars,” she said. “I don’t get it.”
The national inflation rate fell to 5% last month. It will likely hit the Federal Reserve Board’s target of 2% within the next several months. But food prices are still rising at 8.5%, which was the second highest rate of increase for any item in a typical family’s household budget, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Are farm subsidies on his list?
But those numbers had no effect on Iowa legislators, one of whom, Patrick Grassley, the grandson of the state’s senior senator, led the charge for reducing food stamp benefits. “These entitlement programs … are growing within the budget and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities,” he told local reporters. “They’re the ones that are growing within the budget, and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities. And so I think it’s time for us to take a serious look at what they are.”
The Post reported the young Grassley’s bill was written by Opportunity Solutions Project, which is a Florida think tank that has pushed similar bills through other statehouses. The OSP is connected to the non-profit Foundation for Government Accountability, which is largely funded by right wing donors like the Koch and DeVos families and is devoted to cutting welfare programs so individuals will be “free from the trap of government dependence.” The group has a staff of 40, an annual budget of $12.5 million, and counts 144 policy wins in 2022, many of them aimed at limiting SNAP access.
I doubt Iowa legislators will be equally concerned to free their constituents from the trap of government dependence when the farm bill, which includes SNAP, comes up for reauthorization later this year. The last reauthorization was in 2018.
A recent report by the Environmental Working Group revealed the federal government spent $478 billion in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2021. Fully 78% of those crop subsidies went to just 10% of farms, many of them now corporate owned. The top 1% of farms collected 27% of crop subsidies.
Moreover, as the Kansas Reflector reported in Februry, an Iowa farm managed by the son of Sen. Charles Grassley received $1.4 million over the last 26 years in disaster relief payments and corn, soybean and oat subsidies. Grandson and Iowa state Rep. Pat Grassley — he who is tightfisted when it comes to food stamps — collected $55,000 in federal payments, mostly in the form of commodity subsidies, according to the Reflector, which is one of the non-profit newsrooms popping up across the country to replace advertising-supported publications that are dying almost everywhere.
The largest payment to young Grassley came in 2020, when he received $20,000. I suspect the jump in payments was due to the COVID emergency.
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How about an amendment to the farm bill that prohibits any subsidy to farm owners unless each owner works in the fields at least 20 hours weekly? This would be a different sort of work requirement. It would take effect only in states imposing a work requirement on food stamp recipients, or in those with a food stamp application form exceeding 1 page of 12-point font.
Child labor in their slaughterhouses and starvation for the needy - welcome to IOWA (an abbreviation for "I Owe the World an Apology)!